Lockheed Martin is no stranger to 3D printing components, but now the company has created its largest piece to date – titanium domes to cap off satellite fuel tanks. Using additive manufacturing can help satellites be assembled faster and with less wasted materials.

The titanium domes measure 3.8 ft (1.2 m) wide and 4 in (10 cm) thick. Each of the fuel tanks would be made up of two of these 3D-printed domes, with a titanium cylinder between them that's made using traditional manufacturing methods and can be as long as is needed.

The domes are reportedly the most complicated part of the tank to produce, with conventional techniques wasting more than 80 percent of the material used. That waste can be cut by 3D printing them instead, which in turn reduces the cost and time of production.

"Our largest 3D printed parts to date show we're committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost," says Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space executive vice president. "And we're pushing forward for even better results. For example, we shaved off 87 percent of the schedule to build the domes, reducing the total delivery timeline from two years to three months."

The 3D-printed tank caps were, of course, tested thoroughly to make sure they were up to scratch to be used in the vacuum of space for years at a time.

Lockheed Martin was the first company to 3D print parts for spacecraft, when it produced components for the Juno mission, but the titanium domes are the largest so far. That said, they aren't the largest overall objects ever 3D-printed – a tool built at Oak Ridge holds the Guinness World Record for largest single-piece 3D printed object, while bigger structures like cars, bridges and houses have been made of separate 3D-printed parts.

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